North Carolina had little problem blowing out NC State when the teams met at the Smith Center in late January.
But Tar Heels coach Roy Williams doesn’t necessarily expect an easy repeat in Raleigh on Tuesday night.
“The fact that we played them here [in Chapel Hill] helped us, everything sort of fell into place for us that night,’’ Williams said during Monday’s ACC conference call. “I’d be ecstatic if I thought it [the last game] was going to have a great bearing on the game, but deep down inside, I don’t think it will have a bearing on the game whatsoever.
“They didn’t feel like they played very well, they had some open shots they didn’t make, and we made some open shots, ourselves.”
Williams said he thinks the Wolfpack -- who shot only 36.8 percent in that January loss, and trailed by 17 in the first half -- has improved in “every phase of the game” since the teams last met. A lot of that has to do, he added, with becoming more and more comfortable under first-year coach Mark Gottfried.
“Like all teams, the more you play together under a new system, I think with each week, you get more accustomed to what the coaching staff wants, you get more accustomed to … the new philosophy of play,’’ he said. “I think the experience of playing that, every week, you get better and better. I think they appear to be healthier; I think they’ve settled in on the starting five and they’ve got a couple of guys coming off the bench that know their role, and have come in and are doing some good things for them.”
And the Wolfpack has plenty of reasons to want to win: the rivalry, payback for the last game, the need to boost their NCAA tournament hopes. State has lost two in a row, stands 7-5 in the ACC, and Gottfried predicted at the beginning of the season his team would need 11 league wins to earn an at-large bid.
“This is a big game for us,’’ Gottfried said. “Any time NC State and North Carolina play, from our perspective, it’s a big game. Our players have treated it as such in the last day or so, and I think they’ll be very excited for the opportunity.”
“These things just tend to linger unless you’re going to have a two-week break, and this time of year, we don’t have a two-week break,’’ Williams said.
The Tar Heels had a short practice Sunday, and planned to have another short practice Monday. “[It will] hopefully be spirited and enthusiastic and they’ll work very hard, but we’re just trying to make sure we can get them through the time period,’’ Williams said.
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.